Harrison, NJ (Sports Network) - The New York Red Bulls find themselves in
familiar territory at the start of the 2013 Major League Soccer season.
New York has never claimed an MLS Cup title and has made it to the
championship match just once in its first 17 years of action. That kind of
futility has seen a great deal of turnover at the coaching position,
subsequently resulting in a revolving door of players coming and going.
This past offseason was no exception to the trend as Hans Backe was relieved
of his coaching duties after three seasons with the club.
The Swedish tactician presided over one of the most successful eras in the
history of the franchise, leading the Red Bulls to a first-place finish in the
Eastern Conference in his first year before a fifth-place finish in 2011 and a
third-place finish last term.
But Backe ultimately paid the price for failing to guide the Red Bulls beyond
the quarterfinals of the playoffs in any of his three years and his contract
was not renewed by the club.
Mike Petke, long-time servant to the club and former captain under Backe, was
handed the coaching job on an interim basis before eventually being announced
as the full-time boss in January.
The hiring of Petke signals a new approach being taken by the Red Bulls
organization. The club has a penchant for signing coaches with some sort
of tangible track record, good or bad. Backe, Juan Carlos Osorio, Bruce Arena,
Mo Johnston and Bob Bradley all brought impressive resumes to the sidelines of
Giants Stadium and Red Bull Arena.
But the arrival of Petke seems to fall more in line with a trend that has been
gaining a great deal of momentum in MLS circles in recent years.
The Houston Dynamo, Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City all have
experienced relative success in recent MLS seasons and it begins with their
All three clubs employ head coaches who had no previous head coaching
experience. But that did not prevent Dominic Kinnear from leading the Dynamo
to back-to-back MLS Cup victories in 2006 and 2007 and two straight MLS Cup
appearances in 2011 and 2012. It didn't stop Jason Kreis from guiding Real
Salt Lake to MLS Cup glory as a 36-year-old in 2009, becoming the youngest-
ever coach to win the American title. And it didn't hinder Peter Vermes from
lifting Sporting Kansas City to two successive first-place finishes in the
Eastern Conference regular season in 2011 and 2012.
The icing on the cake could have been D.C. United, which under the guidance of
second-year coach Ben Olsen ousted the Red Bulls from last season's playoffs.
Now, the Red Bulls have their own young coach with an intimate knowledge of
the MLS system, but how far can Petke lead them?
Potentially all the way given the on-paper talent New York boasts.
The Red Bulls spent the offseason strengthening every facet of their squad to
better compliment superstar Thierry Henry, adding the likes of Fabian
Espindola from Real Salt Lake to partner the Frenchman up front.
Former MLS Defender of the Year Jamison Olave also made the switch from Utah
to New York to solidify the center of the Red Bulls defense, while Kosuke
Kimura, who helped the Colorado Rapids to an MLS Cup crown in 2010, joined the
club from the Portland Timbers to add a bit more title-winning experience to
New York retooled its midfield by adding former Lyon standout Juninho, who
should make the Red Bulls more dangerous on set pieces given his supreme
delivery from dead ball situations.
And with the likes of Tim Cahill, Heath Pearce and Lloyd Sam receiving the
benefit of a full preseason to jell with teammates, New York certainly possess
one of the strongest teams, man-for-man, in the league.
It will just come down to how well Petke can tie everything together and how
much patience he is afforded by the organization should he struggle off the
2012 in Review: The Red Bulls enjoyed a generally positive 2012 campaign as
they finished third in the Eastern Conference with 57 points, but it was not
without its ups and downs. The club enjoyed one of the most potent strike
partnerships the league has ever seen as Thierry Henry bagged 15 goals and
added 12 assists while Kenny Cooper produced 18 goals and three assists. But
when the goals dried up in the playoffs, the defense, which had been quite
porous over the course of the season, could not see the Red Bulls through to
the Eastern Conference finals. They were eliminated in dramatic fashion as
Nick DeLeon conjured a goal late in the second leg to see D.C. United advance
on aggregate, 2-1.
ACQUISITIONS: Eric Alexander (M), Fabian Espindola (F), Juninho (M), Kosuke
Kimura (D), Josue Martinez (F), Jamison Olave (D).
LOSSES: Kenny Cooper (F), Joel Lindpere (M), Rafa Marquez (D/M), Jan Gunnar
Solli (D/M), Teemu Tainio (M).
OUTLOOK: Expectations will be high, like always, given the strength of New
York's squad from top to bottom. How quickly Mike Petke is able to adapt to
life as a head coach will be key, but this team oozes quality and should be
able to qualify for the postseason in its sleep. But how far the Red Bulls
advance is dependent upon their overall health and form down the stretch.
The Sports Network